Google and Microsoft insist they have not backed away from their support for net neutrality principles, despite a report to the contrary.
Both companies denied much of the information contained in a Wall Street Journal story, which suggested both technology giants have abandoned their support for network neutrality rules.
The article reported that Google has been trying to negotiate with broadband providers for an internet fast lane for its content, apparently in conflict with its support for net neutrality rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or slowing content from some applications or companies.
The Google efforts described in the article, to enter into edge caching agreements with broadband providers, are consistent with the company's efforts to support net neutrality, Richard Whitt, Google's Washington, D.C., telecom and media counsel, wrote on Google's public policy blog.
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Edge caching involves the temporary storage of frequently accessed data on servers that are located close to the users accessing that data, and Google has offered to co-locate caching servers within broadband providers' facilities, Whitt wrote.
Whitt, in a blog post from June 2007, suggested that local caching would be an acceptable behaviour for broadband providers, under Google's view of net neutrality. "These activities do not rely on the carrier's unilateral control over the last-mile connections to consumers, and also do not involve discriminatory intent," Whitt wrote then.
In Whitt's Monday blog post, he defended edge caching as an already common practice, offered by companies such as Akamai, Limelight and Amazon.com's Cloudfront, and used by broadband providers to distribute web content.
"Google and many other internet companies also deploy servers of their own around the world," Whitt wrote. "These solutions help broadband providers by minimising the need to send traffic outside of their networks and reducing congestion on the internet's backbones. In fact, caching represents one type of innovative network practice encouraged by the open internet."
Google's co-location agreements with broadband providers are nonexclusive, meaning other online companies can make the same agreements, Whitt added. "Also, none of them require (or encourage) that Google traffic be treated with higher priority than other traffic," he said.
"In contrast, if broadband providers were to leverage their unilateral control over consumers' connections and offer co-location or caching services in an anti-competitive fashion, that would threaten the open internet and the innovation it enables."
The Wall Street Journal article also said Microsoft and Yahoo have quietly withdrawn from a net neutrality coalition. A Microsoft spokeswoman said there have been no recent changes.
Back in October 2006, Microsoft withdrew from the now-defunct It's Our Net coalition, during debates over a proposed merger between AT&T and BellSouth. Microsoft continues to support consumer net neutrality rights, and it has long supported the ability of broadband providers to offer tiers of service and other enhancements, said spokeswoman Ginny Terzano.
Both Microsoft and Yahoo were members of It's Our Net, but chose not to participate when the coalition morphed into the Open Internet Coalition, a group focused on broader broadband issues, when it formed in early 2007, said Eric London, a spokesman for the newer coalition.
Several groups supporting net neutrality said Google's support of local caching does not raise concerns.
Google has never been against tiered pricing as long as broadband providers "offer the same deal to everyone else willing to pay more, although there are legitimate questions to be asked about some configurations of such schemes," Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said. "The article equates mundane, beneficial caching services with potentially illegal broadband discrimination."
The push for net neutrality is "alive and well" and includes support from Google, added Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights group. "The practices described in the article, known as 'caching,' are commonplace and have been for many years," Sohn added in a statement. "Caching in no way is a part of the net neutrality issue of preventing discrimination by telephone and cable companies."